Progress! How the UK’s Digital Left Mobilised Voters for Labour

Last week’s UK election result sent shockwaves through the progressive community.

Now that the dust has settled on the campaign, let’s digest a few key shifts that contributed to the outcome of this historic election.

1. Bigger Investments in Targeted Digital

2017 was the year British progressives embraced paid social.

BSD worked with HOPE not hate, an organisation dedicated to combating fascism through positivity, to redesign their brand, position them as UK leaders in the resistance, and launch two paid social campaigns.

First, we focused on building a nationwide voter registration programme targeted at young people — a campaign that was optimised constantly to drive many thousands of clicks through to the GOV.UK voter registration site. As a result of work like this, youth turnout in this election increased to between 57% and 59% — its highest point in 25 years.

Next, we ran a hyper-targeted voter persuasion campaign to stop the far-right political party, UKIP, from making gains. Leveraging research conducted by Populus on behalf of HOPE not hate, we were able to identify exactly who UKIP were looking to attract and where they had the greatest chance of winning seats. The campaign contributed to some stunning results. UKIP failed to win a single seat, and its party leader, humiliated by defeat, was forced to step down.

The Labour Party itself (a BSD Tools client) also stepped up their targeting in 2017. Using a proprietary new tool called Promote to match their voter database with Facebook’s ad platform, the party raised awareness of Corbyn’s platform and attacked their Conservative opponents.

2. A Surge In Civic Tech

The civic tech community has a long and storied history in the UK. Our friends at MySociety have worked for more than a decade to use technology to advance civic engagement. But this election saw the emergence of many new groups, notably Democracy Club, a grassroots network of thousands of volunteers who have crowdsourced some of the most interesting digital products of recent times.

One of their most widely shared projects, Who Can I Vote For, enabled volunteers to make public everything from candidate voting records to their leaflets, CVs, and upcoming political events. Millions used this website as a resource over the course of the election.

Elsewhere in the tech space, organisations like Coders for Labour emerged with the purpose of leading the Labour Party to victory through technology. Adopting the guiding principles of grassroots action, accessibility, positivity, acknowledgement, and Open Source development, they’ve created websites such as “I like Corbyn but…” which debunked Tory smears made about the Labour leader, as well as many other important digital projects.

3. Digital Content Aimed at Young Voters

As in the 2012, 2015, and 2016 electoral campaigns, content was an important driver of youth engagement in politics in this election.

Perhaps the best example of this was JOE.UK’s Stormzy music video hack, which superimposed Jeremy Corbyn’s face into a music video by the grime artist. The video was viewed 8.6 million times and shared by more than 100,000 people in the runup to the election.

Another brutally effective video made by I-D Magazine in partnership with the Labour Party saw a different grime artist, JME, interview Corbyn about the world today, Corbyn’s policies, and the importance of voting, allowing Corbyn to tap into new and important audiences.

According to YouGov, approximately 66% of first-time voters (aged 18 and 19) voted for Labour, compared with a paltry 19% for the Conservatives.

What’s Next?

The digital political landscape is constantly changing; as technology evolves, so do user needs and expectations. Constant innovation, iteration, and collaboration is more essential than ever.

As the full-on resistance to the new Tory minority-led government gets underway, organisations must adapt more quickly than ever before. It also means more and more citizens will be creating new groups and tools to make their voices louder and their campaigning more effective.

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Want to know more about how our experience can benefit your organisation (on either side of the pond)? Get in touch with us.